Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Hugo Wolf, Italienisches Liederbuch

Nationality is a complicated thing at the best of times. (At the worst of times: well, none of us needs reminding about that.) What, if anything, might it mean for Hugo Wolf’s Italian Songbook? Almost whatever you want it to mean, or not to mean.

San Jose’s Dutchman Treat

At my advanced age, I have now experienced ten different productions of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in my opera-going lifetime, but Opera San Jose’s just might be the finest.

Mortal Voices: the Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court

The relationship between music and money is long-standing, complex and inextricable. In the Baroque era it was symbiotically advantageous.

I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

What better evocation of bel canto than an opera which uses the power of song to dispel madness and to reunite the heroine with her banished fiancé? Such is the final premise of Vincenzo Bellini’s I puritani, currently in performance at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Iolanthe: English National Opera

The current government’s unfathomable handling of the Brexit negotiations might tempt one to conclude that the entire Conservative Party are living in the land of the fairies. In Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1882 operetta Iolanthe, the arcane and Arcadia really do conflate, and Cal McCrystal’s new production for English National Opera relishes this topsy-turvy world where peris consort with peri-wigs.

Il barbiere di Siviglia in Marseille

Any Laurent Pelly production is news, any role undertaken by soprano Stephanie d’Oustrac is news. Here’s the news from Marseille.

Riveting Maria de San Diego

As part of its continuing, adventurous “Detour” series, San Diego Opera mounted a deliciously moody, proudly pulsating, wholly evocative presentation of Astor Piazzolla’s “nuevo tango” opera, Maria de Buenos Aires.

La Walkyrie in Toulouse

The Nicolas Joel 1999 production of Die Walküre seen just now in Toulouse well upholds the Airbus city’s fame as Bayreuth-su-Garonne (the river that passes through this quite beautiful, rich city).

Barrie Kosky's Carmen at Covent Garden

Carmen is dead. Long live Carmen. In a sense, both Bizet’s opera and his gypsy diva have been ‘done to death’, but in this new production at the ROH (first seen at Frankfurt in 2016) Barrie Kosky attempts to find ways to breathe new life into the show and resurrect, quite literally, the eponymous temptress.

Candide at Arizona Opera

On Friday February 2, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Leonard Bernstein’s Candide to honor the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth. Although all the music was Bernstein’s, the text was written and re-written by numerous authors including Lillian Hellman, Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Dorothy Parker, as well as the composer.

Satyagraha at English National Opera

The second of Philip Glass’s so-called 'profile' operas, Satyagraha is magnificent in ENO’s acclaimed staging, with a largely new cast and conductor bringing something very special to this seminal work.

Mahler Symphony no 8—Harding, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

From the Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, a very interesting Mahler Symphony no 8 with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. The title "Symphony of a Thousand" was dreamed up by promoters trying to sell tickets, creating the myth that quantity matters more than quality. For many listeners, Mahler 8 is still a hard nut to crack, for many reasons, and the myth is part of the problem. Mahler 8 is so original that it defies easy categories.

Wigmore Hall Schubert Birthday—Angelika Kirchschlager

At the Wigmore Hall, Schubert's birthday is always celebrated in style. This year, Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake, much loved Wigmore Hall audience favourites, did the honours, with a recital marking the climax of the two-year-long Complete Schubert Songs Series. The programme began with a birthday song, Namenstaglied, and ended with a farewell, Abschied von der Erde. Along the way, a traverse through some of Schubert's finest moments, highlighting different aspects of his song output : Schubert's life, in miniature.

Ilker Arcayürek at Wigmore Hall

The first thing that struck me in this Wigmore Hall recital was the palpable sincerity of Ilker Arcayürek’s artistry. Sincerity is not everything, of course; what we think of as such may even be carefully constructed artifice, although not, I think, here.

Lisette Oropesa sings at Tucson Desert Song Festival

On January 30, 2018, Arizona Opera and the Tucson Desert Song Festival presented a recital by lyric soprano Lisette Oropesa in the University of Arizona’s Holsclaw Hall. Looking like a high fashion model in her silver trimmed midnight-blue gown, the singer and pianist Michael Borowitz began their program with Pablo Luna’s Zarzuela aria, “De España Vengo.” (“I come from Spain”).

Schubert songs, part-songs and fragments: three young singers at the Wigmore Hall

Youth met experience for this penultimate instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s Schubert: The Complete Songs series, and the results were harmonious and happy. British soprano Harriet Burns, German tenor Ferdinand Keller and American baritone Harrison Hintzsche were supportively partnered by lieder ‘old-hand’, Graham Johnson, and we heard some well-known and less familiar songs in this warmly appreciated early-afternoon recital.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

LPO: Das Rheingold

It is, of course, quite an achievement in itself for a symphony orchestra to perform Das Rheingold or indeed any of the Ring dramas. It does not happen very often, not nearly so often as it should; for given Wagner’s crucial musico-historical position, this is music that should stand at the very centre of their repertoires – just as Beethoven should at the centre of opera orchestras’.

William Tell in Palermo

This was the infamous production that was booed to extinction at Covent Garden. Palermo’s Teatro Massimo now owns the production.

The Bandits in Rome

AKA I masnadieri, rare early Verdi, though not as rare as Alzira. In 1847 London’s Her Majesty’s Theatre  commissioned the newly famous Verdi to write this opera for the London debut of Swedish soprano Jenny Lind.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tales of Ovid [Image by The Classical Opera]
30 May 2013

Tales from Ovid: Classical Opera

Since receiving some fairly mixed reviews of their production of Mozart’s Zaide at the 2010 Buxton Festival, Ian Page’s Classical Opera seem to have focused their attention on recordings and themed concert performances of 18th-century riches and rarities,

Tales from Ovid: Classical Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Tales of Ovid [Image by The Classical Opera]

 

performing in several central London venues — the Wigmore Hall, King’s Place and the Barbican — and continuing their admirable work in developing opportunities for young singers and instrumentalists, and extending audiences’ awareness of this lesser-known repertoire.

I have attended several such well-assembled and assuredly delivered performances at the Wigmore Hall, the latest of which presented a selection of instrumental and vocal works united under the umbrella, Tales from Ovid.

We began with a substantial orchestral opener — Dittersdorf’s Symphony in F major, ‘The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus’, one of six of surviving symphonies by the composer which were inspired by specific tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The performance was noteworthy for the beautifully cantabile oboe solos of James Eastaway, particularly in the Larghetto third movement where the phrases and cadences were exquisitely shaped, and the appoggiaturas were milked for all they were worth! Indeed, the decorative gestures throughout this movement were movingly executed, and the gentle glow of muted strings and horns was tenderly demonstrative. Page shaped the lively second movement effectively, building gradually to the vigorous entry of the bright, vibrant horns. The ensemble was excellent throughout.

The operatic contribution in the first half of the concert was an excerpt from Act Three of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice: the sequence of numbers leading to the renowned ‘Che farò’. Anna Devin, confidently singing ‘off-the-score’, was an engaging Euridice. She convincingly located a range of emotions from indignation to defiance, from doubt to hope; ‘Che fiero momento!’ (‘What cruel moment’) was characterised by emotional impact, the woodwind shaping an affecting dialogue with the voice, the strings producing a focused timbre. The phrase “Vacillo, tremo” (“I sway, I tremble”) was fittingly unsettling and impassioned, full of driving energy. As Orfeo, countertenor Christopher Ainslie was less secure: the register seemed a little too high for comfort, and as Ainslie worked hard in the accompanied recitative to convey the nuances of the text, the tone became rather shrill and strained. He found a sweeter lightness, however, in the culminating aria and the gracefully shaped lines conveyed Orfeo’s vulnerability and bewilderment.

The overture and a scene from Haydn’s Philemon und Baucis followed after the interval, Devin (singing the roles of Baucis and Narcissa) now partnered by tenor Benjamin Hulett (Aret). Written in 1773 for the marionette theatre at the Esterházy palace, Philemon und Baucis did not survive in complete form — possibly the victim of nineteenth-century taste or of a theatre fire — and has been reconstructed from an extant singspiel version. It takes the form of arias and duets, sung by six marionette characters, framed by spoken dialogue; the libretto is undistinguished but the music charming.

And, there was quite a lot of music before we got to the singing. The brisk fiddle playing and punchy horn outbursts in the overture (somewhat dubiously attributed to Haydn) depicted the thunderstorm which kills Aret — the son of the peasant couple, Philemon and Baucis — and his fiancée, Narcissa, on their wedding day. Despite their grief, the old couple offer hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury who have come to earth disguised as pilgrims (cue another instrumental interlude) and in return the gods transform the funeral urns into an arbour of roses — the bucolic reliquary musically depicted in a suitably pastoral idiom.

Inside the floral dell, the lost couple are restored to life. Aret’s aria of reawakening established a quiet mood of musical enchantment, the unusual timbre — solo oboe, muted triplets and pizzicato from the two groups of violins above a firm bass — enhancing the sense of uniqueness and preciousness. Hulett’s pronunciation of the text was clear but never mannered, the gentle lyricism revealing his sense of wonderment and tentative but blossoming joy at the miracle which has occurred. Then, together, Aret and Narcissa celebrate their reunion and pledge eternal devotion; in this joyous, invigorating duet, ‘Entflohn ist nun der Schlummer’ (‘The slumber has now departed’), the crystal clear soprano of Devin blended beautifully with Hulett’s mellifluous tenor in shared ardency and joy.

Part Three of Mozart’s first opera, Apollo and Hyacinthus, concluded the programme. Hyacinthus, mortally wounded by Apollo’s discus which has been deliberately blown off course by Zephyrus, has just identified his killer to his father, Oebalus (Hulett) before expiring. Oebalus and his daughter Melia (Devin) sing of their grief, their outpouring so moving Apollo (Ainslie) that he turns the dead boy’s body into a flower, the hyacinth, (with its distinctive marking, ‘Ai’, an exclamation of anguish in the ancient world). Apollo then reaffirms his love for Melia and the three sing a hymn of praise that their forthcoming marriage may bring restoration and good blessings.

Hulett was excellent in his rage aria, expressing his fury at the murder of his son with forceful projection and accurate, supple coloratura, matched by incisive violin playing. He joined once again with Devin in their duet of mourning; their melancholy was eloquently expressed, the lines intricately crafted, the sighing appoggiaturas and chromatic inflections perfectly judged. The gentle undulations and pizzicato of the accompaniment was a perfect bed for the opulently entwining voices, and for the affecting violin solo which opened and closed the duet. Ainslie now found a more delicate tone, fitting for the young Apollo; the final Trio was exuberant and elevating.

Musically and technically, Classical Opera offered much to admire; and, judging from the near-capacity audience’s generous ovation the company certainly has a band of loyal and idolatrous fans. But, one is tempted to ask, if Page truly believes in this repertory — not only in its musical worth but also its theatrical credibility — then should such conviction not be demonstrated on the operatic stage rather in the concert hall or in the recording studio?

In some respects, Michael Maloney’s overly thespian declamation between the movements of the Dittersdorf symphony and before the opera scenes were the most explicitly dramatic aspect of the evening — and they were, in fact, redundant, since the programme outlined the mythical context and narrative in some detail and provided the text of the sung numbers. The audience is sufficiently well-informed and competent to assimilate such written information with their aural experience of the music.

Snippets and bite-sized chunks might offer melodic charm, instrumental colours might appeal and seduce, but ultimately such works need to be ‘tested’ in the theatre; only complete staged performances will ensure their incorporation into the ‘operatic canon’ and their longevity. Otherwise, the company might as well rename itself the ‘Classical Themed-Concert-Performance Company’. That said, musical standards were typically high, and we can only hope that Page gives us the opportunity to enjoy more theatrical presentations of this lovely repertoire soon.

Claire Seymour


Production and cast information:

Dittersdorf: Symphony in F, ‘The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus’; Gluck: ‘Scene from Act Three of Orfeo ed Euridice; Hadyn: Overture and Scene from Philemon und Baucis; Mozart: Part Three of Apollo and Hyacinthus]. Anna Devin: soprano; Christopher Ainslie: countertenor; Benjamin Hulett: tenor; Michael Maloney: reader; The Orchestra of Classical Opera (leader Matthew Truscott); Ian Page: conductor. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 20th May 2013.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):